Tag Archives: Union Rhythm Kings

“SECOND REUNION”: THE UNION RHYTHM KINGS ON DISC and LIVE

The Union Rhythm Kings at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party

The Union Rhythm Kings at the 2013 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party

The debut CD of this wonderful hot band, A HOT REUNION, on Herman Records, came out in 2009.  So the second one is long overdue, and I am happy to report that it is here, and as delightful as its predecessor.  (I am grateful to Trygve Hernaes, the band’s enthusiastic guide and supporter, for enabling me to hear them on disc before I’d met them all in person.)

The band, the Union Rhythm Kings, is a wonderful hot hybrid of Norwegian and Swedish musicians — Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Bent Persson, trumpet; Lars Frank, reeds; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano, Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Jacob Ullberger, banjo / guitar.  For the geographers keeping score, Kris, Lars, and Morten are from Norway; Bent, Frans, and Jacob from Sweden. The band even has its own Wikipedia page.

What sets the URK apart (and above) many other “traditional” jazz bands is the excellence of their solo and ensemble work, expert and impassioned, and free from cliche.  They are inspired by the original recordings and arrangements, but they bring their own energy to the repertoire.  They’ve broken free of the Jazz Museum.

On this disc, much of that repertoire is comfortable Morton, Ellington, Armstrong, Luis Russell, and Beiderbecke — but the URK takes pleasure in Jack Purvis and obscure Morton. Thus, CLARINET MARMALADE, CROCODILE CRADLE, DAVENPORT BLUES, SARATOGA SHOUT, HUMPTY DUMPTY, WHEN YOU’RE FEELING BLUE, I DIDN’T KNOW, I AIN’T GOT NOBODY, MILENBERG JOYS, RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, WHAT’S THE USE OF CRYIN’, BABY, SANTA CLAUS BLUES, BLUES OF THE VAGABOND, SOMEBODY STOLE MY GAL, DUSKY STEVEDORE.

I’ve listened to them with great pleasure at their recent annual appearances at the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, and I have some performance video from November 5-8 to share with you — which will embody the band’s virtues better than paragraphs of enthusiastic prose.  The great young drummer Nick Ball helps out on all these performances.

Here are four from their Sunday-evening concert:

DAVENPORT BLUES:

BLUES OF THE VAGABOND:

HUMPTY DUMPTY:

CLARINET MARMALADE:

and four from the Thursday-night pub session:

In honor of the Luis Russell band, SARATOGA SHOUT:

For solitaries everywhere, I AIN’T GOT NOBODY:

and these last two (with Bix in mind), with Thomas Winteler sitting in for Lars:

SORRY:

JAZZ ME BLUES:

The URK discs (beautifully recorded), can be obtained from Sonor Records AS,
Postboks 4275, NO 7436 Trondheim, Norway.  Information at email: sonoras@online.no.  Price: NOK 200 or USD 25, packing and postage included. Payment via Paypal, to the email address above.

May your happiness increase!

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“BIX OFF THE RECORD” and ON THE BANDSTAND

I confess I come late to this party — the delightful CD below was released almost five months ago — but I don’t arrive empty-handed.  The words tell it all.

BIX OFF THE RECORD

And the music is joyful — more than the solemn faces on the cover suggest.

For whatever reasons — an elusive individual who thrills his contemporaries and vanishes, a creator of inexplicable delicate beauty — Bix Beiderbecke has been the subject of more inquiry, more debate, and more mythology than any other jazz musician.  I stand back from such diligence, although I admire its limitless energy.  What fascinates me is the music: the music Bix created and its reverberations after his death.

Many “Bix tributes,” to my ears, are laboring under burdens even before the first note is played or recorded.  Audiences sigh more fervently than they ever did for the young Sinatra when the first cornet notes of the SINGIN’ THE BLUES solo launch into the air.  Other bands offer exquisitely accurate copies of those OKehs and Gennetts.  Just the sort of thing for those who like that sort of thing.  “Perhaps if we can summon up GOOSE PIMPLES note for note, Bix will never have died?”

But BIX OFF THE RECORD is a more imaginative project.  It doesn’t seek to say, “What would Bix have played had he been on Fifty-Second Street alongside Hawkins in 1944,” or “Let’s score Bix for string orchestra.”  Rather, it imagines a lovely, plausible alternate universe where Bix, in the recording studios more often (although never enough) got to play and record songs he would have known, was known to have played, among his peers and contemporaries.

Enough words for the moment?  Hear sound samples herethree full tracks from the CD, ending with a touching cornet-piano duet on MEAN TO ME.  Aside from the brilliant (although honest) recorded sound, the first thing you will notice is the band.  No one is imitating Lennie Hayton, Bill Rank, or Min Leibrook.  The musicians — not tied to the original Bix oeuvre — are free to roam within the conventions of the genre, but not stiffly or formally.  And rather than having this session be a feature for the heartening cornet of Andy Schumm, it features everyone, with delightful arranging touches that make the result more than “Let’s blow on DINAH for five minutes, solos for everyone.” Each performance has sly, sweet, effective glances at other Bix recordings and recordings of the time.  It’s truly uplifting fun, not a class trip to the Museum of Jazz.  And you can’t read the very fine and informative liner notes by Julio Schwarz Andrade here, but they are worth the price of admission.

The Lake Records Facebook page is full of good things, including news of a new duo-release by Jeff Barnhart and Spats Langham called WE WISH THAT WE WERE TWINS, a title both enticing and philosophically deep.

But back to Bix — in his century and in ours simultaneously.

I said I came to this party with gifts, and here are two.  On November 7, 2014, eleven months ago, a sextet assembled on the bandstand of the Village Hotel Newcastle Inspiration Suite — where the glories of the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party took place — to play some of the songs that would be explored on the CD above.  Messrs Duffee, Sjostrom, Boeddinghaus, Porro, Kompen, and Schumm, if you need reminding.  I was there with one of several video cameras and (although there are heads intermittently in the way) the sound of the band was thrilling.  Here are two selections from that evening’s offering.

One, a pop song of the day much beloved by Bix (an improvisation on its chords and its intent became FOR NO REASON AT ALL IN C), I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN:

Then, Morton’s WOLVERINE BLUES as if imagined by the Wolverine Orchestra:

These two performances are, I hope, inducements for those who can to hie themselves to the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party — the Whitley Bay party appropriately renamed for its beloved, intent, humorous founder — which will start on Thursday night, November 5, 2015, with a concert / jam session by the exalted Union Rhythm Kings, and end somewhere between Sunday night and Monday morning, leaving us all weak with pleasure. Here is all you need to know to make that state of being yours. See you there in a month’s time!

And just because it is possible to do so . . . here is the brilliantly screwy surrealistic Fleischer Screen Song (1931) of I’D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN — primitive karaoke through a distorting lens:

May your happiness increase! 

HOMAGE TO ADRIAN: FRANS SJOSTROM’S NEW YORK GANG: DUKE HEITGER, LARS FRANK, KRISTOFFER KOMPEN, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, JACOB ULLBERGER, NICK BALL (Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, November 7, 2014)

From the JAZZ LIVES Collection (currently on display in the JAZZ LIVES kitchen)

From the JAZZ LIVES Collection (currently on display in the JAZZ LIVES kitchen)

I’d love to have this Gang in my neighborhood: paying tribute to Adrian Rollini, they make beauty, not violence.  This session took place at the 2014 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, and the “New York Gang” evoked five classic recordings with connections to Rollini from 1928 to 1934.  They were Frans Sjostrom, bass sax / leader; Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano; Jacob Ullberger, guitar; Nick Ball, drums; Duke Heitger, trumpet; Lars Frank, tenor saxophone; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone.

IF I HAD YOU (if memory serves, the 1928 arrangement from a Sam Lanin record featuring one Bing Crosby, vocal):

DAVENPORT BLUES by our man from that town:

SOMEBODY LOVES ME:

SUGAR:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

Such sessions have been the hallmarks of every Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party since before my time — my first was in 2009.  Notice, please, the enchanting mix of expertise and casualness, while great recordings and great performers are evoked, more than imitated.  It’s a wonderful party — now renamed the Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party — and this year’s version begins with a jam session by the Union Rhythm Kings, a glorious band, on November 5, and the party goes until November 8, or perhaps the early hours of November 9.

You’ll be more than satisfied.

May your happiness increase!

THREE VARIETIES OF JAZZ EXPERIENCE at the 2012 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (October 26, 2012)

Three delights, previously unseen, from the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party:

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS, by Keith Nichols, piano / vocal; Norman Field, clarinet / vocal; Emma Fisk, violin, Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Spats Langham, guitar:

STOMP YOUR STUFF (with a Louis Hot Chorus at 3:24) by Bent Persson, cornet; Jean-Francois Bonnel, Rene Hagmann, Thomas Winteler, reeds; Jens Lindgren, trombone; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Martin Seck, piano; Josh Duffee, drums; Martin Wheatley, banjo / guitar; Phil Rutherford, brass bass:

LOUISE (where are Bing and the Rhythm Boys?) with Andy Schumm, cornet; Spats Langham, banjo; Keith Nichols, piano; Michael McQuaid, C-melody saxophone; Norman Field, clarinet; Alistair Allan, trombone; Frans Sjostrom, bass saxophone; Phil Rutherford, brass bass; Richard Pite, drums:

See you at the Village Newcastle in November 2014. Details here.

And I just learned about the pre-Party opening jam session, featuring the Union Rhythm Kings on Thursday, November 6: that’s Bent Persson (trumpet), Lars Frank (clarinet and saxophone), Kristoffer Kompen (trombone); Jacob Ullberger (banjo & guitar); Frans Sjostrom (bass saxophone); Morten Gunnar Larsen (piano).  They are a wonderful band.

May your happiness increase!

HOT REUNION! THE UNION RHYTHM KINGS on CD

On April 17, when I wrote a few lines about this wonderful hot band (see UNION RHYTHM KINGS) I had already had the pleasure of hearing several tracks from their debut CD on their MySpace page.  Now, through the kindness of Trygve Hernaes, the CD’s executive producer, I’ve heard the disc, called A HOT REUNION.  That it is!  Astonishing music, precise yet abandoned, fierce yet relaxed — the qualities that characterizes the best jazz, perhaps the finest art.  And the band’s “heat” is not a matter of speed and volume; most of the performances on this disc are at at medium tempos, but they swing and stomp remarkably.

The band title, I now know, harks back to the peaceable union of Norway and Sweden (1814-1905), and it’s not a history lesson.  Three members of the URK (Bent Persson, cornet / trumpet;  Frans Sjostrom, bass sax; Jacob Ullberger, banjo/guitar) are Swedish; Kristoffer Kompen, trombone; Lars Frank, reeds, and Morten Gunnar Larsen, piano, are Norwegian.  A most equitable balance, giving new meaning to the idea of a “mixed band.”  Kristoffer and Lars are stars of the Jazzin’ Babies; Bent, Frans, and Jacob play and record as the Hot Jazz Trio, and Morten is an institution unto himself.

The CD pays tribute to Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, and (by extension) Bing Crosby with AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL, THE LOVE NEST, YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, WA-DA-DA, RHYTHM KING, JAZZ ME BLUES, and ROYAL GARDEN BLUES; it honors Louis and King Oliver with KEYHOLE BLUES and CHATTANOOGA STOMP; Jelly Roll Morton has his moments with THE CHANT, KANSAS CITY STOMPS, THE PEARLS, and BLACK BOTTOM STOMP.  That would be enough for anyone — but this band has a particular fondness for the music that Red Allen and J.C. Higginbotham made while members of the Luis Russell Orchestra, perhaps the hottest band on record in 1929-30: the URK revisits DOCTOR BLUES and HIGGINBOTHAM BLUES.

Some readers might think, “Do I really need another version of ROYAL GARDEN BLUES”?

Yes, when the Union Rhythm Kings play it.

Much of the repertoire above from 1923-30 has already been explored by “traditional” bands all over the world.  And if you were to listen to all those recordings, an arduous task, you would note many “recreations” and many “improvisations.”  Some bands feel that the only way to pay our ancestors proper homage is to treat the Victors, OKehs, and Gennetts as sacred text to be copied note for note.  Although this can be electrifying when done expertly in concert, for example, it has serious philosophical limitations.  And simply “jamming” on ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, for instance, means that once the players are through the first two strains, it’s a medium-tempo blues, perhaps characterless.

The URK steer between these two extremes: their performances take inspiration, shape, and often tempos from the originals, but the solos are fresh, inventive.  And the results are glorious.  Hearing CHATTANOOGA STOMP, I thought, for the first time, “This must have been what the Creole Jazz Band really sounded like.”  Now, it didn’t hurt that each man here is a brilliant soloist, “tops on his instrument for tonation and phrasing,” and that each soloist knows the repertoire intimately.  But they all are brilliant team players.  Often, collections of “all-stars” turn out to be exercises in ego, muted or open, with the players less concerned about creating a band than about playing their solo.  Nothere.

And the CD is brimful with additional delights: on-target notes by trumpeter Mike Durham (who really can write!), and beautiful SACD Surround Sound.

I originally wanted to title this post THE STUFF IS HERE AND IT’S MELLOW, but I thought my esoteric reference to the marijuana culture of the Thirties might be too arcane.  But mellow the music is, indeed.

You can purchase this CD by contacting the producer, Trygve Hernaes, at Sonor as/Herman Records, Postbox 4275, NO-7436 Trondheim, Norway, or via email: sonoras@online.no., or trygve.hernes@bntv.no.  A CD costs $25, and payments can be made only by MasterCard or Visa, but this hot music is worth the effort.  I look forward to many more such reunions!

UNION RHYTHM KINGS

Bent Persson, the amazing trumpeter / cornetist, has a new band.  It includes Frans Sjostrom, the genius of the bass saxophone, the inimitable Morten Gunnar Larsen on piano, reedman Lars Frank, Kristoffer Kompen on trombone, and the versatile Jacob Ullberger on banjo and guitar.  (Lars and Kristoffer are new to me, so I haven’t invented adjectives for them, but they are fine players indeed.)

union-rhythm-kingsAnd here’s the link to the band’s MySpace page, where you can hear them romp through five selections from their debut CD on Herman Records:

http://www.myspace.com/unionrhythmkings

A blog is about sharing pleasure as well as information: I hope I’ve fulfilled my moral obligations for the morning!